Reflecting on Audubon's Virtual Assembly

Thoughts from a 2020-2021 Conservation Leadership Initiative student.

by Jaime Roy.

Jaime Roy is a student at the University of Florida participating in Audubon Florida's 2020-21 Conservation Leadership Initiative. Through this program, 25 Florida college students are connected to their local Audubon chapter, conservation projects, and networking opportunities in the conservation field.

Coming into the annual Assembly, I had little firsthand experience with Audubon, other than a book I had read as a child describing its origins in the fashion trends of the 1920s, women’s activism and suffragists, and early conservation efforts. Given this background, the focus of this year’s conference on inclusivity made complete sense in contextualizing Audubon’s conservation and broader activist efforts, as always we (as individuals and the Audubon society more generally) work within a complex political and cultural ecology.

On the very first day, hearing about chapter successes opened my eyes to how much good work is being done in perpetuity by souls who care in uncountable measures about our natural and lived environments, and the wildlife within it. With the pressures of climate crisis and constant attention given to one environmental disaster or area of degradation after another, it was refreshing to start off with what is being done right, and to consider how to apply it in new areas or unforeseen ways.

The virtual field trips were emotional balm, promising days to come of visits to far-away (or not so far away) natural paradises and exploration that our current conditions don’t permit. The expertise of the hosts and the effort and curation that went into creating the Lake O jaunt blew me away. While I was acutely aware of being within my own home, the synthesis and spark created by the intermingled sights and sounds of the lake footage, voiceover, and background music suggested an atmosphere meditative, bittersweet, and exuberant all at once.

What has endured most in my mind has been the words from the keynote speaker, J Drew Lanham, Ph.D. Dr. Lanham, a wildlife biologist, lifelong birder, and Black man, spoke about his experiences birding as a child and an adult. His thoughts, so carefully woven, took on the lilt of spoken poetry and encouraged introspection. For myself, a white genderqueer Latine, listening to him speak about the loneliness of being the only Black person involved (at least as a young child) and the simultaneous sense of connection and alienation in the midst of his naturalist peers, rang true. It also prompted me to, once again, return to my own actions and personal history and examine myself for actions that may have caused others to feel that sense of alienation. What can we do in the field of conservation to lessen that? It’s such a crucial question to answer; in the name of the inherent value of marginalized individuals who may want to take rightful places in our naturalist communities, and for the sake of our environments, which require justice for all in order to achieve environmental justice.

It is so important to reach beyond our own cultural eddies in our personal lives and in the workplace—out of respect for others, as inspiration for new ideas and methods, to ensure justice and fairness in all that we do. The 2020 assembly made me feel welcomed into Audubon’s world and hopeful about the future of conservation.

Click here to read a full summary of Audubon Florida's Virtual Assembly - Reimagining Audubon Florida: A Call for Inclusive Conservation - and click here to learn more about the Conservation Leadership Initiative program.

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